Renewed calls for Emancipation Day to be a national holiday

The annual street party J’ouvert pays tribute to the celebrations that took place on August 1 1834 when slavery was abolished (Photo cour- tesy Soca News)
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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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Well-known cultural expert and Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Commission Dorbrene O’Marde is renewing calls for the government of Antigua and Barbuda to make Emancipation Day a national holiday.

Antigua and Barbuda celebrates Carnival on and around the first Monday of August each year, with a street party that mimics the festivities that took place on August 1 1834 when slavery was abolished.

But O’Marde said a special day of recognition should be set aside purely for Emancipation Day.

He contended that several other Caribbean islands have already done so and that the twin island nation is lagging behind in that regard.

“It’s a national holiday in many of our Caribbean territories. Guyana is getting prepared to put 20-30,000 people in Georgetown on Emancipation Day. St Lucia’s government just budgeted $178,000 to the Reparations Commission there for emancipation celebrations, and Barbados has declared a season of emancipation,” he said.

O’Marde recalled that on August 1 1985, Trinidad and Tobago became the first independent country to declare a national holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery.

“Certainly, we need to pay a lot more attention to the celebrations here,” O’Marde said.

The cultural activities of a number of “important voices”, like iconic calypso singer and writer Marcus Christopher, traditionally displayed little connection between Carnival and emancipation, he explained.

“I think the reality is that there is not much association between the two. Emancipation had already lost its meaning in Antigua. Growing up as a boy, it was a day we went on church picnics, with no reference at all to emancipation, and it’s just that Carnival was put in the slot as a summer festival,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Reparations Commission has planned a number of activities to commemorate Emancipation Day. The highlight is a watch-night gathering on July 31, which will extend into the early hours.

“We have already had commitments from a number of artists and poets to take part in the event,” he said.

The body has also been in negotiations with the African International Development Organization to host a visit from a king and his wife to form part of this year’s activities, O’Marde added.

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